Thakur Ranjit Singh
Some leaders are rich, like USA’s Trump and New Zealand’s John Key, others are controversial like Presidents of Philippines and Zimbabwe, some others are deadly, like the ones in North Korea and some Middle Eastern countries, but yet some others are simple, humble, grassroots, common men (aam aadmi) and loveable ones like India’s Chai-Wala (tea-seller) or Waitakere’s (Auckland) Taxi-Wala (Taxi-driver).
|President of WIA, Mahendra Sharma (right) helping the Chief Guest, Councillor Linda Cooper, to light up the Diya of Diwali at Waitakere Diwali Celebrations|
Indeed India has its Narendra Modi- a Chai-Wala, and in answer, Waitakere has its Mahendra Sharma, a Taxi-Wala. Yes, this simple and humble person Mahendra Sharma, from the grassroots of the community is the new President of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA), which again held a very successful Diwali celebrations last month.
Initiating the first public Diwali celebrations in New Zealand in 2000, WIA has been continually celebrating it for the last 17 years. And in doing so, unlike other similar organisations, it has always granted opportunities to all its executives to gain leadership positions, and train as leaders. Unlike some other similar organisations where only rich, influential, professional or businessmen get to lead, WIA is a different ball-game. Everybody has equal chance, and this has allowed a taxi-driver, Mahendra Sharma, to be our President, leading WIA Diwali. We had other newcomers, Kajal Kumar, as the master of ceremonies (MC) and Hasmita Singh, WIA’s Secretary, as Diwali Project Manager. We are proud for a job well done.
On Sunday 23 October, 2016, WIA switched on to a new venue for its Diwali from Trusts Stadium to Te Pai Netball Centre, next door on Te Pai Road. Unlike some other Auckland Diwali, Sharma said that “WIA is mindful of the fact that Diwali needs to retain its theme, its respectability and dignity.” In following that policy, he said WIA has special dress codes and other restrictions and check and balances to have a mix of modern culture with tradition to ensure Diwali retains its light of wisdom, divinity and dignity. “This was reflected in the Ram Leela which was performed by artistes from Ayodhya, India,” he said.
|In line with keeping the theme and tradition of Diwali, this "Ram Lila " item from performers from Ayodhya India added color to the celebrations.|
The other point he homed in was that...”while other events have paid officials, our community workers give their time and expertise freely to the community.” This was in reference to Auckland Council and corporate-organised events where those organising are paid officials, while those at WIA are non-paid community volunteers –unsung heroes with a passion for community well-being.
Auckland Councillor Linda Cooper, Trusts Chairperson and Auckland Councillor, Ross Clow, Labour’s Phil Twyford, National’s Kanwaljit Bakshi and major sponsor, Robert Khan were the main speakers, among others. One surprise inclusion was Faiyaz Koya. He is a Fijian politician and Member of the Parliament of Fiji. He currently holds the portfolios Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism. Koya is the son of former National Federation Party leader Siddiq Koya.
Fiji’s Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya was in Auckland with Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama’s delegation which was visiting New Zealand to promote relations with Fiji. He delivered a very inspiring speech which paid tribute to Fijians settled in NZ, their contributions, and an invitation to Fijian Diaspora to come to Fiji to visit and invest.
|The VIPs with Past WIA Presidents, L-R, Anand Naidu and Naveen Prakash, with National List MP, Knawakjit Singh Bakshi , in the centre.|
Earlier in the evening, distinguished guests were treated to in the WIA tradition of vegetarian cocktail which was a time for networking with community leaders. This gave opportunity for leaders to freely mingle and share thoughts.
|The craft stall|
|The food stall|
And that is exactly what he has done, by attending Diwali in Parliament in Wellington on 10 November, 2016 with a team from WIA. This was organised by the Office of Ethnic Affairs in Wellington. This event was attended by other Indian community leaders throughout the country, with MPs and prominent people of the community. This recognition by the New Zealand government is very encouraging for all those who regard Diwali dearly and speaks volumes for a country which embraces diversity.
As the dust settled at Te Pai Netball Centre in Auckland after the annual Waitakere Diwali, we can proudly looked back and give a big round of applause to the team which created many ‘Firsts”. It was the first Diwali event for the new President Mahendra Sharma, it was first MC duty for WIA Executive, Kajal Kumar, it was first event management for Diwali Event Manager, Hasmita Singh, it was the first time the event was held at the new location, it was first time the group from Ayodhya performed Ram Lila, and it was the first time, a Fijian Minister addressed the event.
And to wrap it up, as a Chai-Wala is causing ripples and change in India, we also expect our Taxi-Wala President to bring in changes at WIA to make it a more-community focussed organisation, and continue doing what it does best –managing and organising annual Diwali ( and Holi) celebrations in West Auckland. And this story has been brought to you by yours truly (Thakur), another grassroots community advocate – the Bus- Wala (bus driver) journalist.
[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is former long-time Secretary of WIA (2005- 2010) and a former Vice President. He runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT and reports on community events passionately that other media have little passion to cover.]